Its a crisp, fall morning near the east-side residence halls. A chalked greeting on the sidewalk reads: "Happy 19th birthday, Alicia. Now you can get in the Union."
A non-student passing by could be forgiven for wondering when the Iowa Memorial Union put an age limit into effect, but most university students would get the intended message: Now you can drink illegally, Alicia.
The offices of Stepping Up, a University office charged with developing ways to change the binge drinking culture at The University of Iowa, are located half a block from this sidewalk message. Julie Phye, director of the office, admits that she is frustrated sometimes. But she believes that with the help of parents of Iowas 18,000+ undergraduate students, change in Iowas binge drinking culture is possible.
Binge drinking usually is defined as consumption of five or more drinks in succession for men and four or more for women in one sitting. Frequent binge drinking is drinking to excess three or more times in two weeks.
Non-Drinkers Harmed, Too
Stepping Up started by assessing the impact that high-risk drinking has on the entire University culture. Students who binge-drink can expect to miss classes and fall behind academically, sometimes to the point that their only option is to leave. But a students binge drinking also causes significant harm to non-binge drinking students.
"We call this second-hand effects," Phye says. "Im frustrated when I hear from non-drinking students who have to clean up repeatedly when their roommates have been throwing up. Students are angry at having to babysit a sick roommate at 2:30 in the morning.
"As annoying as these effects are, more disturbing is the known correlation between binge drinking and physical and sexual assault. Current data indicate that one in three women at Iowa have experienced an unwanted sexual advance from an intoxicated person," she says.
Bars Admit Underage Students
Iowa City is one of the last college or university towns in the State of Iowa that allows bars to admit 18- to 20-year-olds, she says. The bars say the students are served only soft drinks, but according to students it is not difficult, once youre inside, to find an older student to order beer for you.
"At the University of Northern Iowa bars dont admit students younger than 21," Phye says. "Ames bars dont, either. Underage kids from Ames come here to party."
Bar owners in Iowa City insist they dont market to the underage students. "But its obvious that they market strongly to them," Phye says. "Im not against free enterprise, but giving away kegs of beer on the condition that the beer must be drunk that night; selling drafts of beer for a quarter; running specials on shots of liquorall of this goes well beyond just admitting underage students whod like to go out with their friends.
"Were not trying to close bars down, were trying to have them behave in a responsible way and obey the law," Phye says.
Its Time to Help
Phye hopes parents will be concerned about these issues, too, and join others who are beginning to help Stepping Up. Students are a critical stakeholder for Stepping Uppart of the organizations strategic process. "They are the driving creative force behind most of the non-alcoholic events on campus," says Phye. "Student groups that have sponsored tailgates include Greek organizations, Womens Athletics, Student Alumni Association, the Associated Residence Halls, and UI Student Government. Community churches and organizations have provided time and financial contributions, too."
The Parents Association Board is a welcome supporter of Stepping Up, Phye says. "Thanks to their contributions, a popular student-run activity called Night Games has expanded to twice its previous size. Night Games provides special activities and refreshments in the Field House until 2 a.m. on Saturday nights."
Now, Phye says, its time for individual parents to add their voices.
"What I would like parents to do is write or call the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce, the City Council, the Downtown Association, or University officials," she says. "Tell them that you want downtown bars to obey the law and you would like downtown businesses to offer alternative entertainment at night for students who dont want to drink."
After all, she adds, the math is pretty clear. "We have 18,000+ undergraduates,
51 percent of them underage. There are 98 bars within a one-mile radius of downtown. After 10 p.m. almost nothing else is open downtown. Many of these bars admit 18- to 20-year-olds at night, and once theyre inside they find a way to get alcoholic beverages."
Article written by Anne Tanner